By: Alistair Reece
*from the Spring 2015 issue*
Imagine the scene.
A group of friends are sitting around a large table, each of them taking mouthfuls of beer from pint glasses as they share banter about life, the universe and everything. The beer in their glasses is darker than the bitter the old fella at the bar is drinking while he’s doing the crossword in his newspaper, but not as dark as the stout the girls in the corner are laughing over. The group round the table will be staying for a while. They like a drink, and it is May, which means, in the UK at least, it is Mild Month.
Mild is one of those styles of beer that is painfully misunderstood. It’s not a low gravity porter (though some do share the darkness and roastiness of that style) and is not an “easy-to-drink” brown ale (though once upon a time brown ale was simply a brewery’s mild in a bottle.) It’s a style, which over the centuries, has been different things to different people. To Victorians, it was just a young beer, yet to develop the racy flavors of age. In the immediate aftermath of World War II, it was still one of the four standard beer styles being made by British breweries. To many of my generation, it’s an old man’s drink to be overlooked in favor of pale lagers in the mainstream and over hopped pale ales in the craft world.
To me, mild is a dream of a style. Low gravity makes it something I can enjoy three or four of with lunch. A color range from pale to deep brown means practically any kind of specialty malt can be layered on top of the pale base, allowing for almost infinite flavors. Hops, while present, take a back seat, the focus being a balance of malt and hop, a rounded pint that doesn’t challenge nor deter the drinker. It’s the beer that before you know it has slipped down the glass and you need a refill. It is a dream that is so seldom realized.
A couple of months ago, I wrote a post on my blog, Fuggled.net, about the possibility of having an equivalent of the British ‘May is Mild Month’ on this side of the Pond. It was one of those posts which was just me thinking out loud. As I re-read the text, I figured it would do no harm to see if any of my brewer friends here in Central Virginia would be willing to brew a mild for May. To my surprise, they mostly said yes, and so I decided to ask other breweries to come onboard, as did fellow beer writers Tom Cizauskas and Lew Bryson.
With May upon us, there are 15 breweries in Virginia, and 45 across the country, that will have mild ale on tap in their tasting rooms. There is a full list at the end of this article. Some, such as South Street in Charlottesville, and Staunton’s Redbeard Brewing, are doing versionsof the classic British Dark Mild, some are making the lesser known pale mild style, while others, including Pleasure House Brewing in Norfolk, are creating a new style, the American Mild.
The American Mild shares many of the characteristics of the traditional British Dark Mild, low alcohol, restrained hopping, deep amber to dark brown color, but made with American ingredients. American pale malt, being rather different from Maris Otter or Golden Promise; American hops are more about pine resin, tropical fruits, and grapefruit than the orange and spice of an East Kent Goldings; American yeast strains tend to the clean end of the spectrum, rather than adding additional fruity characteristics. To quote from the project’s website, www.mildmonth.com, an American Mild is:
“A restrained, darkish ale, with gentle hopping and a clean finish so that the malt and, what hops are present, shine through.”
Perhaps I don’t fit in with the stereotype of the craft beer drinker, in not wanting my face ripped off and trampled upon in a full frontal hop assault, or so sour that it would pucker the face of the most severe prohibitionist, but I think not. My experience as a barman and general eavesdropper in bars suggests I am far from alone in being sure that easy drinking beers have their place, and to disagree completely with a well known Virginia brewer friend of mine, there is a market for session beers. That market is May, or as I like to call it, American Mild Month.